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Lobster Trap Tag Team Wins Award of Excellence

Alexandria, VA - The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission presented members of the American Lobster Trap Tag Team, Jason McNamee, Chief Deputy Kurt Blanchard, and Special Agent Todd Smith with its Annual Awards of Excellence for their outstanding contributions to fisheries management, science, and law enforcement along the Atlantic coast.

 

“Every year a great many people contribute to the success of fisheries management along the Atlantic coast. The Commission’s Annual Awards of Excellence recognize outstanding efforts by professionals who have made a difference in the way we manage and conserve our fisheries,” said ASMFC Chair Douglas Grout of the New Hampshire Fish and Game. “This evening, we honor a number of exceptional individuals for their contributions to the management and conservation of Atlantic coast fisheries.”


Read ASMFC's whole press release (pdf). Excerpts below.

Management & Policy Contributions

American Lobster Trap Tag Team -- Mike Cahall, Nicholas Mwai and Karen Holmes of the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program (ACCSP); Peter Burns, Chip Lynch, Allison Murphy, Julie Mackey and Ted Hawes with NOAA Fisheries; Cheri Patterson and Renee Zobel with NH Fish and Game; Tom Hoopes, Story Reed and Kerry Allard with MA Division of Marine Fisheries; Scott Olszewski, Daniel Costa and John Lake with RI Division of Fish and Wildlife; Mark Alexander and Colleen Giannini with CT Dept. on Energy and Environmental Protection; and Kim McKown with NY State Dept. of Environmental Conservation

The American Lobster Trap Tag Team is a group of 19 state and federal fishery and data managers and ACCSP staff responsible for the creation of the first of its kind cooperative permitting and trap allocation tracking database for American lobster. As a result of this ground breaking state/federal partnership, state and federal American lobster permits and associated trap tags can be managed in a coordinated way for the first time. This is not an easy accomplishment given the complexities of American lobster management, which restricts the number of traps fished in its various Lobster Conservation Management Areas (LCMAs) but allows the transfer of trap allocations among permit holders. The task of creating a multi-jurisdictional program among the states and NOAA Fisheries was challenging because of the differences between their permitting approaches. States typically issue permits in the name of the permit holder, while NOAA Fisheries issues permits by the name of the vessel. In order to be efficient for administrators, business friendly for fishermen, and achieve the goals of the lobster management plan, the transfer program had to seamlessly dovetail the differing rules and policies of the states and NOAA Fisheries. Further, the transfer database had to address issues such as matching state and federal permits that could be in different names; fixing differences in data fields across jurisdictions; and reconciling problems associated with a single fisherman having multiple corporations with permits. The database became fully operational in late 2015 and provides the Commission, ACCSP, and associated partners a central database to manage and track trap tag transfers and allocations between commercial lobstermen across jurisdictions, while improving effort data essential for making informed management decisions.

Law Enforcement Contributions

Special Agent Todd Smith, NOAA Office of Law Enforcement

Since 2010, Special Agent Todd Smith has worked tirelessly to reveal significant quantities of summer flounder were being taken illegally under the cover of quota acquired through the Mid-Atlantic Research Set Aside (RSA) Program.  Through his investigation, Special Agent Smith identified 12 persons and entities exploiting the RSA Program for personal gain, uncovering nearly 600,000 pounds of unreported summer flounder, worth an estimated $1.2 million. Special Agent Smith highlighted the RSA Program’s vulnerability to abuse through under-reporting and non-reporting of catch, ultimately resulting in the Program’s suspension in 2015.

 

Special Agent Smith served 120 subpoenas which produced 12,500 documents and identified four vessels that sold unreported summer flounder to four federally permitted dealers. He managed the execution of seven simultaneous search warrants, the largest number ever executed in one day in the history of NOAA’s Northeast Region, which resulted in further proof that eight individuals and four corporate entities continued to conceal illegal landings of summer flounder caught under the guise of the Program.

 

To date, Special Agent Smith’s dedication and perseverance has resulted in charging nine defendants with 24 felonies. All nine have pleaded guilty. So far, seven sentences have been rendered totaling 16 months of prison time, $1.2 million in fines, and $550,000 in restitution. Furthermore, Special Agent Smith has shared his investigative experiences with NOAA Fisheries to aid in its efforts to formulate regulatory changes to the RSA Program. Special Agent Todd Smith achievements are notable and all our Atlantic fisheries are better off thanks to his hard work.